Mitt Romney's refusal to take responsibility for the actions of Bain Capital from 1999 to 2002 says a lot about the kind of president he would be.
Friday night, Romney persisted in denying that he was responsible for the behavior of Bain during the period, even though he was listed on SEC documents as the firm's CEO, Chairman, President and sole stockholder. Romney claims he "left" Bain Capital to run the Olympics back in 1999 and is not in the least responsible for the actions it took over the next three years, notwithstanding the fact that he was CEO, Chairman, President and sole stockholder until 2002.
There is mounting evidence of specific decisions and actions that undercut Romney's case that he was no longer involved in the day-to-day decisions of Bain Capital after 1999.
But the central, indisputable fact is that the CEO, Chairman, President and sole stockholder of a company is responsible for whatever the company does -- by definition. For normal people, any argument to the contrary simply defies common sense
Romney can dance around the issue, parse words, argue he gave up "management control" until he is blue in the face. But however he structured the decision making process at Bain Capital while he was also running the Olympics, he was ultimately in charge -- and he was ultimately responsible for -- and benefited mightily from its actions. In every business the buck stops with the CEO, Chairman, President and sole stockholder -- it's that simple.
Romney's refusal to be held responsible for the actions of the company he owned -- and for which he remained CEO, Chairman and President -- says a lot about the kind of President he would be -- and a lot more about his character.
Romney was happy to make millions of dollars from the company he owned. He was happy to take credit for the "jobs he created." But he refuses to take responsibility for the lives his company destroyed, or the fact that in some cases he loaded up companies with debt and bled them dry to pay his own fees before he put them into bankruptcy and fired their employees.
Romney cashed Bain's checks -- and sometimes he apparently deposited them in Swiss Bank accounts -- or accounts in Bermuda or the Cayman Islands. But he refuses to take responsibility for the fact that the firm was -- as the Washington Post called it -- a "pioneer of outsourcing."
This is a guy who plays by a different set of rules than ordinary mortals. And the last thing he wants to do is allow those ordinary mortals to see first hand how he did what he did by disclosing his income tax returns from the years he was active at Bain.
Some of the companies he acquired at Bain did well. Others went under. But win or lose, Romney always made money. Workers may have lost their livelihoods and pensions. Small businesses that served as suppliers to his companies may have gone under. But Romney always came out ahead.
Mitt Romney is the kind of guy who is always happy to bask in the glow of success, but is never willing to take responsibility for failure.
This entire episode is reminiscing of Romney's reaction to the revelation that as an 18-year-old student at the Cranbrook Prep School, he was involved in bullying John Lauber, a fellow student who he didn't believe "fit in." The Washington Post reported that a fellow student named Mathew Freidman, and three other former students, reported that Romney had marched:
...out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber's hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.
The Post wrote:
"It happened very quickly, and to this day it troubles me," said Thomas Buford, the school's wrestling champion, who said he joined Romney in restraining Lauber. Buford subsequently apologized to Lauber, who was "terrified," he said. "What a senseless, stupid, idiotic thing to do."
Romney could have accepted responsibility for what he did as a young man -- and acknowledged that it must have been a horrific experience for the bullied student. Instead, when confronted with the charges, he said he didn't "remember" the episode that fellow students referred to as a "vicious attack." Then he gave a non-apology-apology. He told a radio talk show host that, "Back in high school, I did some dumb things and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that..."
In the military there is a tradition that when there is a problem -- when a soldier is called on the carpet -- the correct response is "no excuse sir." Not Mitt Romney. Romney is the past master at ducking responsibility and making excuses.
Romney may believe that the President of Bain Capital didn't have responsibility for the company's actions -- but someone should explain to him that the President of United States is absolutely responsible for the work of every Executive Department, whether or not he is directly involved in every decision. The President of the United States is responsible for the success or failure of every military mission. He is responsible for preventing recession -- for saving the auto industry even when it is unpopular -- for making the tough decisions and living with their consequences.
When you're President of the United States, you can't say, "Oh I had no responsibility because I left the day-to-day decisions of the Defense Department to others."
Do we really want a President that refuses to take responsibility for the actions of a company for which he was CEO, President, Chairman and sole stockholder?
But it doesn't stop with personal responsibility. Romney Economics refuses to take responsibility for the future of the next generation. In fact the whole body of radical right wing economic philosophy that Romney has embraced is an absolute abrogation of the concept that we have a responsibility to each other.
The core element of that philosophy is the notion that millionaires and billionaires have only one moral obligation -- to look out for themselves. They rationalize this unbridled selfishness with elaborate theories about how their bounty will ultimately trickle down to everyone else -- how they have to make more money because they are -- after all -- the "job creators."
In fact, of course, the real job creators are ordinary middle class consumers, whose demand causes businesses of all sorts to hire people to produce products and services. Companies don't create jobs because they have more money in their bank accounts or out of the goodness of their hearts. They create jobs because someone has the money in their pockets to buy the things that they sell.
But "trickle down" economics is really nothing more than an elaborate justification for millionaire selfishness -- for the refusal of the wealthiest Americans to take responsibility for the welfare of the entire community and for the next generation.
The advocates of Romney Economics claim to be hugely concerned that we do not leave our children a massive federal debt. But their concern does not carry far enough to allow them to agree to a meager increase in their own tax rates to levels that persisted during the 1990's when our economy added 23 million new jobs and created quite a number of new millionaires.
They're responsibility to the next generation does not go far enough to prevent them from despoiling the planet in order to pad their Swiss Bank accounts. It does not prevent them from denying the scientific fact of global climate change in order to prevent oil company profits from declining.
In fact, the irresponsibility of the one percent crowd is little different than that of a group of thoughtless teenagers that throw beer bottles onto the highway out of the windows of their cars, not caring that someone else will inevitably have to clean up their mess. Like the irresponsible teenagers, it's all about them. And many of them are so out of touch that they don't have a clue about their own selfishness.
Ask some of the folks who attended the Romney fundraisers in the Hampton's last weekend:
A woman in a blue chiffon dress poked her head out of a black Range Rover here on Sunday afternoon and yelled to an aide to Mitt Romney, "Is there a V.I.P. entrance. We are V.I.P." [New York Times, 7/8/12]
"We've got the message," [A New York City donor from the passenger seat of a Range Rover stamped with East Hampton beach permits] added. "But my college kid, the babysitters, the nails ladies -- everybody who's got the right to vote -- they don't understand what's going on. I just think if you're lower income -- one, you're not as educated, two, they don't understand how it works, they don't understand how the systems work, they don't understand the impact."[LA Times, 7/8/12]
"A few cars back, Ted Conklin, the owner of the American Hotel in Sag Habor, N.Y., long a favorite of the well-off and well-known in the Hamptons, could barely contain his displeasure with Mr. Obama. "He is a socialist. His idea is find a problem that doesn't exist and get government to intervene," Mr. Conklin said from inside a gold-colored Mercedes as his wife, Carol Simmons, nodded in agreement. Ms. Simmons paused to highlight what she said was her husband's generous spirit: "Tell them who's on your yacht this weekend! Tell him!" Over Mr. Conklin's objections, Ms. Simmons disclosed that a major executive from Miramax, the movie company, was on the 75-foot yacht, because, she said, there were no rooms left at the hotel." [New York Times, 7/8/12]
Let's be honest, Mitt Romney -- and many of his supporters -- were born on third base and think they hit a triple.
The last thing that we need in a president is a man who refuses to take personal responsibility for his own actions and that of his company. The last thing we need is a president whose economic philosophy is an elaborate justification for the unwillingness of many of our wealthiest citizens to take any responsibility whatsoever for the welfare of our entire society.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.